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  • Writer's picturePaul Weston


We have a small number of pictures painted by my wife's grandmother that we framed and hung on the walls of our house.


Sally’s grandmother died at a young age, and we do not know much about her, except that she was the wife of a wealthy banker, was an accomplished artist, and was clearly well travelled as the paintings, delicate watercolours, record her visits to several countries. 


There are pictures of Japan with traditional paper houses, of Venice and Italy.  One painting is of a huge archway, which used to amuse our children when they were young as they were convinced that the black clad woman with a basket on her arm leaning against the panel at the back of the building was a monkey.


Several years ago, we looked at the painting and wondered what it depicted.  The arch looked Moorish, so we searched online and realised that it was somewhere in the Alhambra, the Moorish palace and fortress complex in Granada, the last part of Spain to be held by the Moors.


Last week went by ferry to Santander, and had a leisurely trip south to the boat in Almerimar, in Andalucia.  We spent the fourth night of our trip in Granada, and in the morning visited the Alhambra - Arabic for the Red Fort.  The Alhambra is huge, spectacularly beautiful, with astonishing Moorish architecture and gardens which make much use of pools and fountains.

We walked around, looking closely at each arch, and showing the Alhambra staff Sally’s grandmother’s painting.  Eventually, one of the employees recognised the arch in the painting, pointed, and there it was, only 50 yards away.  We had thought that we might have trouble definitely identifying the arch - but there was no doubt - this was what Sally’s grandmother had painted 100 years ago. 


Though the tiles are a little less blue than in the picture, the vegetation has been cut back, the wooden panel at the back of the gatehouse is varnished wood, not green, and sadly, there is no black clad woman with a basket on her arm leaning against the rear wall of the gatehouse, it is the same arch, little changed in 100 years.  I think it is almost certain that Sally’s grandmother sat with her easel before the arch (something that would probably be impossible now with the today’s visitor numbers) as the painting is so detailed. 

100 years – not a very long time by the standards of the Alhambra, but a long time in a family, and it is interesting to speculate on the artist’s experience of Spain.  Sally's grandmother clearly had the money, leisure and education to not only paint evocative pictures, but the insight required to choose interesting subjects. What was her world like? The First World War had been over for some time, but it had been a cataclysmic event, touching the lives of almost everyone, and the old world order had been completely overthrown.  Spain, though neutral in the War, was riven by divisions, and ruled by military decree.  Poverty was widespread, and the Church was omnipotent.


How did she travel to Granada?  She could have gone overland from the north, as we did, though it is almost certain that she would have gone by rail.  Perhaps she went by steamer to a port on the Mediterranean cost, Malaga or Almeria.  Where did she stay?  The Alhambra had been “discovered” by the English many years before, and it was a recognised attraction, and there must have been hotels dedicated to serving these tourists.  Did her husband have business in Spain?  There were several British enterprises in Andalucia, including the splendidly named Great Southern of Spain Railway Company.


We will never know the answers to these questions, but our visit to the astonishing Alhambra was enhanced by the knowledge that our children’s great grandmother had spent time there, and had made a unique record of her visit.










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